Tag: Resilience

Founder’s Corner

Bouncing back as a leader has never been more timely a topic as it is for me in this present moment.

“It’s 2:40pm on a week day afternoon. I just boarded my plane after missing an earlier flight because I arrived at the gate too late. Too late to board my flight that left 10 minutes earlier than scheduled. I’ve had a challenging week already and this is how it comes to a close. As though I haven’t already stumbled my way through a week of setbacks. Extending a three hour travel day into a ten hour one brings me to recognize the universe is telling me to make a change.”

Hi I’m Byron Darden welcoming you to the latest edition of Leading with Purpose on Purpose. In this installment my focus is on dealing with setbacks. We all have them and we all have stories about how some setbacks we overcame while others, well, not so much.

It seems not so long ago I learned the valuable lesson that a setback, often referred to as a breakdown is what happens right before a breakthrough. Now when I experience a breakdown of some kind, I’m reminded that a breakthrough is on the horizon.

I also discovered five simple tips to overcoming setbacks. First and foremost, acknowledge it. We’re not immune to setbacks. Therefore recognize them so you can begin transforming them into the breakthrough up ahead. Second, rather than succumb to the blame game, focus that energy on how to move forward. Third, while everyone may have a different approach, mine is to ground myself in my spirituality. It is through my faith that I have been able to see beyond whatever setback I’m facing. Fourth, one of my greatest challenges is to allow time for the wounds of setbacks to heal.

Leadership and Resilience: Bouncing Back from Setbacks

Think about a time when things didn’t go quite as planned.  It could be something as small as missing the bus to work. Or something bigger – like preparing weeks for a presentation and once you got up in front of the group, they changed the parameters, scraped the project, or completely rejected your ideas. 

We’ve all been there. Recently, I had a family emergency that required travel across the country. My priorities were not questioned; however, the trip threw my business life into a tailspin – missed classes, calls, invoices, and deadlines. Once I shifted my focus back to business and checked my emails and texts, I experienced what could have felt like overwhelmed, making me want to crawl up into a ball and go to sleep. It turned out to be a time of great learning and inspiration to write this month’s blog.

Bouncing back from setbacks, whether due to self-imposed expectations, the guilt of disappointing others, or losing a client or a job, is a test of your resilience.

When Things Get Tough

Resilience is the ability to bounce back with ease from whatever might throw you off balance unexpectedly. In leadership, this can happen in any number of ways too numerous to count, and it can happen on a routine basis.

  • Did the coffee shop screw up your latte again?
  • Did the client change their requirements?
  • Did you miss out on getting the promotion you deserved?
  • Did you get laid off or fired?

Resilience is one of the table stakes of becoming an effective leader. One thing to remind ourselves of is that no matter how skilled you are, remaining grounded when losing your balance as a leader is as much a part of the role as regaining your footing when you find yourself careening into a tailspin; something pilots must learn how to overcome before getting their wings to fly.

No matter what your situation, the next step after the setback defines your leadership resiliency.

We see this displayed in the news. A company faces a situation that causes its stock to plummet, or its image to falter in the consumer’s eyes. This could be due to a natural disaster, past business decisions that are now questioned by employees or the public, or a myriad of other events.

The resilient CEO gets up in front of their employees and explains the situation and how the company plans to mediate the damage or bounce back. The stronger the relationship is between leaders and their followers, the greater possibility for overcoming setbacks.

Meeting Others Where They Are

When I was a young boy growing up in San Antonio, Texas, my father took me with him to Austin where he worked as a state attorney. I had the honor of meeting the late Barbara Jordan, the first African American elected to the Texas Senate who invited me to be an honorary page. I had no idea what a page did; I was just excited to have a day away from school and hang out with my dad in the state’s capital.

We are making our way to the capital building on State Street in Austin. My dad and I are standing on a street corner waiting for the light to change. My dad is a big man. He’s tall and dark. People say he’s handsome. He’s also a person who easily can be scary looking at first sight. You notice him when he walks into a room. The kind of person who gets attention without saying a word. He strikes up a conversation with another man also waiting to cross the street. For those who are unaware, back then it was illegal to cross the street when the walk light blazed red, “Don’t Walk.”

As my dad stands with the posture of former military, he and another man begin to talk. I don’t pay much attention to what they are saying. I am feeling the warm sun as my eyes dart up and down the street, watching cars go by, and people all dressed up. So glad I get to miss a day of school. Suddenly I heard my dad’s voice. “This is my son Byron”, I hear my dad’s base baritone voice rumble from above my head. It is as though heaven opens and God speaks my name to get my attention. I am 7- or 8-years-old. A chubby, soon-to-be a Weblow Scout. We shop in the husky department at Sears for all my pants. That‘s the only place that has pants I can wear. I’m not all that comfortable in my own skin. Not like my dad.

“Shake the man’s hand,” Dad’s voice thunders. I slowly stretch out my hand as I look down to the ground. “Look the man in the eye when you shake his hand,” I hear my dad’s voice again. I slowly lift my head, looking up at a man. I don’t know him. Trying to remember how I know him. I feel a little scared inside. He’s a stranger. I don’t speak to strangers. I can hardly wait to leave the corner. Just my dad and me.

After a few moments, the light turns green. The man walks one way. Dad and I go another. “Who is that man Daddy? I ask lots of questions, as usual, wondering what the answer will be. I don’t know, he replies. I am surprised that my dad does the very thing my mother and he warn me not to do; speak to strangers. Confusing! This is my earliest memory of building relationships. You just talk to a man on the street you don’t know?”

What I learned from that experience is that there are exceptions to rules. First, you learn what the rules are. So that by the time you choose to break them, you’ve built the confidence in your resilience to face the consequences.

Today, just as my father demonstrated, I’ll talk to just about anyone on just about any topic without hesitation. It was a long road to travel to get comfortable enough to speak to people. Let alone strangers. Today, no one is a stranger to me once I introduce myself and engage them.

How did I overcome the fear of speaking to people? Years as a musical theater actor exposed me to all types of characters, playing all types of roles and having a director tell me, “Think of everyone in the first row sitting there in their underwear. How can you be nervous when you are on stage fully dressed!” Or my mother’s encouragement, “They put on their pants just like you do; one leg at a time. No need to be afraid of people.”


When something fails to work out as expected – leaving us with a negative outcome, it’s learned behavior to react by pointing the finger at someone or something. While there may be outside influences that contribute to the issue, the one thing that you can control is your choice of response. Effective leaders take ownership of their part of the problem, learn from setbacks, and create opportunities for improvement.  It’s important to keep things in perspective and consult your team for solutions. 

Developing your resilience soft skills involves self-reflection.  Take time to reflect on the situation, brainstorm possible solutions, and determine your next steps.

  1. Setbacks are often unexpected – or at least they seem that way.  Give yourself time to reflect on the situation.  This often results in the “Why me?” or “Life is unfair” inner criticism we fall prey to at times. Just avoid remaining in this state for too long.
  2. After some reflection, you might realize that there are things you could have done differently.  Identify the buttons that were pushed and your shortcomings in averting the situation.
  3. In many situations, there are elements out of your control and those that you can control.  Realize the difference and capitalize on what you learn.
  4. Make a plan moving forward and be prepared to work on your plan.
  5. Give yourself grace.  Setbacks happen to everyone and how you handle them will define you.
  6. While it’s tempting to blame outside circumstances, you gain more by looking at the situation from different perspectives.  Remember that when you point a finger at others, three fingers are pointing back at you.
  7. Throughout the process, stop and reflect on choices you make or decisions that led to the current unsatisfying situation. 
  8. Resolve to learn from the setback and recognize how you can choose differently in the future.

Building Relationships

You may be all too familiar with the saying: Life happens when we are busy making plans. I once worked with a client to create a Life Plan. This client shared with me their reluctance to plan ahead, stating, “I want to stay open to the unexpected that is bound to happen. So why punish myself by planning ahead when I know something is bound to arise that causes me to throw out my plans because the unexpected happened leaving me to change my course anyway.” You may ask yourself – Why bother?

For over 50 years I’ve been steeped in consulting, which has taught me the value of formulating a plan so that course correcting takes less time and energy than starting from scratch when Mother Nature has her way with your plans.

Any time I stumble onto an unexpected set of circumstances, it is my resilient mindset that allows me to develop a client solution that I believe will make all the difference in solving my client’s problem.

Sure, there will be unknowns to consider. Yet, the basis of planning is the ART of determining how to approach a problem, figuring out the best tools and techniques to resolve the problem, and then demonstrating how to release the tension that was created when the problem presented itself, so we become more flexible to move through a similar reoccurrence the next time. I’ve come to learn that there will be a next time!

From Fear to Triumph

I once worked with a client to develop storytelling techniques for use in business situations. Typically, these are stories with a teachable point of view. They are often told from the point of view of a life lesson learned. It could be a surprising insight gained from an otherwise unflattering light shown on the storytellers themselves, or perhaps a learning we have from watching the failure of another person’s actions.

They were petrified at the thought of standing before colleagues, sharing a less than proud moment from their lives. At the encouragement of the cohort with whom they were aligned, the moment came to stand in front of a classroom of high-powered executives and share the story they crafted over the course of an afternoon.

When the story reached its end, their fellow executives from all over the world, representing a wide variety of different industries, rose to their feet with the precision of the Rockets at Radio City Music Hall applauding that seemed to go on for some time. In all the years I’ve taught this program, I do not recall experiencing such a heartwarming appreciation for a story well told. The lesson learned is that we can be our own worst critic and when we simply trust in the process, something wonderful can emerge. In addition, we also grow in confidence the more we do the things that challenge us the most. Each building block that contributes to our courage makes us stronger and more willing to tackle the next.

It isn’t from theory that I draw lessons to help leaders overcome hurdles in their careers. It is from being in the trenches and learning from doing that comforts me in lifting others up.

Handling Setbacks

Harvard Business Review looked at 450 CEO successions in 4 years.  35% of the CEOs who were ousted from one company proceeded to take a similar role at a larger company where they ended up being the same or more successful.  What is the difference between those who bounce back and those who do not?

Often it comes down to mindset and how the leader handles the setback.  Getting fired from a high-profile position can happen for a variety of reasons – some of which are out of the leader’s control.  Because they are at the top, they can be the fall guy or girl when times are tough.

After this happens, the leader has some choices – step down into a lower executive position, move into a lower-profile position out of the public eye (such as to the Board of Directors), or seek out a new company. 

When leaders have a well-constructed plan and follow the steps that we’ve mentioned above, they can fight back and convince others of their worthiness to lead again.  Other leaders choose a different path, albeit not at the top position.  Others are never heard from again.  The difference comes down to resilience and their plan to bounce back how they choose to. In the end, it always comes down to a choice.

Bounce Back

“Resilience is all about being able to overcome the unexpected. Sustainability is about survival. The goal of resilience is to thrive.” – Jamais Cascio

History books are filled with those that overcame adversity.  Abraham Lincoln faced adversity from his very early career, failing as a shopkeeper, and failing to be elected to Congress several times.  Imagine if he had given up – instead, he became one of our greatest Presidents.  Colonel Sanders didn’t succeed with Kentucky Fried Chicken until he was in his late 60’s.  JK Rowling’s Harry Potter was rejected by 12 major publishers before becoming one of the bestselling book series of all time.  The list goes on. 

Whether your setback is small or seemingly insurmountable, people rarely remember the circumstances of the setback; they remember how you stood up, dusted the dirt off your knees, and made a plan. 

Are you facing a setback and need assistance working out the details – someone to bounce ideas off and gain perspective, book a call on my calendar.  Together we’ll work on tools to help you bounce back.